Poor old Netscape. Led by a man whose arrogance is more newsworthy than its products, the company that once dazzled is now struggling to meet the needs of the most demanding industry on the planet.
Its darling Navigator is now entering its twilight hours and losing support all over the globe with editorials and research companies eager to add their own damning verdicts on a program that could not keep up. According to a report by Zona Research, Netscape's Navigator remains the primary browser at 70%, down from 83% in August.
Of course the browser wars are over, and Netscape has taken a considerable beating, but now it seems to have found itself pleading for respect. Even the markets are worried, prompting leading observers to cast doubt on the company's forthcoming SuiteSpot technology. But it may not be the technology that proves to be Netscape's problem.
When Marc Andreessen walks onto a stage he has the air of a man who is either bored or irritated about the debates his company generates. Once a highly regarded businessman, he is now a target for both journalists and the irreverent clan of software leaders who can't wait to add their comments to a growing population of anti-Andreessen enthusiasts. At Lotusphere '97, Jeff Papows, one of Lotus' finest, dismissed Andreessen as "immature" and said the company talked a lot of "bullshit". Steady on, Jeff.
So, has the man who made his millions well before his 30th birthday finally earned the crown that once belonged to Bill Gates? Probably not.
Gates has always been held in awe and not contempt, and his frumpy anorak image has shielded him from the eloquent derisions of indulgent columnists.
But Andreessen is different. Where Gates can halt a barrage of questions from any audience, Andreessen is chilly and dismissive.
So why all this personal attack? Well it's like this. The industry we have the honour of working in is run by personalities. The Americans call them evangelists, we call them salesmen but their role in the success of a company is undeniable.
Oracle's ultra slick Larry Ellison, robed in suits with blades for creases, is a perfect example of a salesman who has a clear understanding of what his customers want. He's brash, he's maverick and he's right there pulling the strings. Then there's Sun's Scott MacNealy whose over-fed St Bernard ensures the vote of canine lovers everywhere. MacNealy is funny. He's also clear and friendly with his delivery, so when he tells you to dump your PCs in return for a dumb terminal, you lot set up IT divisions to establish whether the guy is off his head or not.
"You're talking rubbish," I hear you say. "I wouldn't choose a piece of software just because salesmen tell me it's the best on the market." Really? Ever heard of Windows 3.0?
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